Monday, November 23, 2009

What's Wrong With Modern Physics: The Planck Length

The Math
Modern theories on quantum mechanics predict the significance of something called the "Planck Length". The Planck Length is equal to approximately 1.616253x10^-35 meters. That's almost unimaginably small; somewhere near ten sextillionths the length of a single proton (yes, a sextillionth is a real number, and as far as I know, not the name of a porno).

The Planck Length has significant mathematical significance in most commonly accepted quantum theories; it is one of several units of measurement (all named after Max Planck) that are based purely on perceived universal constants and not on measurements of physical objects. In particular, the Planck Length is derived from the strength of gravity, the speed of light, and the relationship between the energy of a photon and the frequency of its electromagnetic wave. Note that these three constants are all derived from separate physical theories: special relativity, general relativity, and quantum mechanics respectively. Relativity and quantum mechanics contradict each other in many ways (this is one of the greatest unsolved scientific puzzles of our time) so to me, the significance of the Planck Length is already suspect.

The Physics
Many theories on the behavior of the universe at a very small scale (most notably several forms of a theory called quantum gravity) also state that the Planck Length has special physical significance. In fact, some physicists seem to have a preoccupation, or at least an interest, in determining the physical significance of the Planck Length. This is part of the point I will eventually be making. Some quantum theories state that relativity breaks down at distances less than the Planck Length and the universe at smaller scales behaves as sort of a multidimensional foam (don't ask me; I don't understand that one either). Some state that the universe may be quantized at this length, much as an image on a computer screen is quantized, or becomes blocky, at the length of one pixel. Some state that the Planck Length may have influence on the speed of light.

Scientists were recently able to test the latter.

The Problem
The Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope recently observed a gamma-ray burst called GRB 090423. Along with the normal smattering of high-energy photons, it picked up one that was truly exceptional. It came in at a whopping 31 giga-electron-volts. That's extraordinarily energetic. Energetic enough that its wavelength came to approximately 4x10^-17 meters. This was a far cry from the 1.6x10^-35 meters of the Planck Length, but it was just close enough so that the Planck Length's influence on its speed could potentially be measured when you consider the massive distance that the photons traveled. And what did they find?


When compared to the gamma-ray burst's other photons, it did not arrive at the predicted time differential.

Does this mean that quantum theory is wrong? Not at all. But it does mean that the physical significance of the Planck Length is highly suspect. To be fair, scientists are taking this a lot more seriously than the quasar problem, and are beginning to eliminate some forms of quantum gravity from theoretical models due to this discovery. However, they don't seem to be taking a second look at the big picture, which I believe suggests that mathematical models do an inadequate job of describing the nature of the universe.

Flawed Methodology
Much of today's physics are based purely on mathematical models. All of string theory, for example, is based upon the idea that the behavior of subatomic particles seems to fit well with mathematical equations that describe the vibrations of multidimensional strings (hence the name). The science was born from the math. The Big Bang theory was based upon the perceived expansion of the universe, but many of the details that make up the theory are based purely on math. Originally, the Big Bang theory predicted a universe much older than it currently does. Then when observations showed otherwise, the underlying math of the theory was altered to fit the observations. This happened not once, but three or four times! The entire concept of the "inflationary phase" of the early universe was added to force the math behind the theory to fit the observations of the cosmic microwave background radiation.

This appears to be very different from the methods used to make discoveries in the past. They were made by coming up with an idea, then later finding math that fit that idea. Newton came up with the idea that all matter has a slight attraction to all other matter, then later discovered the math that became a successful model of gravity. Einstein came up with the idea that if you're traveling very fast and then shined a light ahead of yourself, the light is still traveling at the same speed as when you are standing still. Then later, he discovered the math that became a successful model of special relativity. Today's science is doing it backward; they are coming up with the math first, using the math as a theory of how the universe works, then changing the math when observed behavior doesn't fit the theory.

I suggest to you that this is a flawed method. I'm not saying that using this method can't come up with answers, but I believe that it will come up with a lot of mathematically-correct wrong answers (such as those rejected forms of quantum gravity) before it stumbles upon the right ones. Do the Planck Length and the other Planck units have mathematical significance? Probably. At the very least, they make it easier to express measurements on the levels needed for quantum theory. Do they have inherit physical significance? My guess is no.

Trip to Space
Progress: 6.47%  Flight Time: 0:09:42
Solar Array
Progress: 6.47%  Power: 65W

Friday, November 20, 2009

Excalibur Almaz To Use Soviet Spacecraft

This is actually a bit of old news, but I just stumbled upon it, so I figured I'd throw it in the mix.

British-based Excalibur Almaz Limited has announced some specifics concerning their plans to launch tourists into space. It plans to using Soviet-built reusable return vehicles that were used in the 70s to reach the classified space station Almaz (and suddenly the company's name makes a lot of sense).

The company bought the designs and the spacecraft from the Russian company JSC MIC NPO Mashinostroyenia (who originally designed the spacecraft). They are now updating them to be compatible with today's launch vehicles and to have improved capabilities useful for the orbital tourist (and scientific and educational) launches that it plans to conduct.

No word on price though. We'll see.

Trip to Space
Progress: 6.47%  Flight Time: 0:09:42
Solar Array
Progress: 6.47%  Power: 65W

Thursday, November 19, 2009


My dog sleeps in my room with me. Every morning, she steps over to my bed and puts her head on the edge waiting for me to get up.

So every morning, I open my eyes and see this:

Daddy? Are you awake yet? Daddy? Daddy? Are you awake yet? How about now? Daddy? Now are you awake? Daddy? Daddy? Are you awake now? How about now? Daddy? Are you awake yet? Daddy? Daddy? Are you awake yet? How about now? Daddy? Now are you awake? Daddy? Daddy? Are you awake now? How about now? Daddy?

Trip to Space
Progress: 6.47%  Flight Time: 0:09:42
Solar Array
Progress: 6.47%  Power: 65W

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What's Wrong With Modern Physics: Quasars

Be warned: this and upcoming posts contain much geeky science content.

There is one constant that has occurred throughout scientific history. Every theoretical breakthrough that has been made in the past few millennia has been met with skepticism and derision throughout the established scientific community. The earth is round? Preposterous! The earth spinning around the sun? Sacrilegious! The moon has craters? Insane! Yet these theories have all been confirmed, and each one of them has irrevocably altered the scientific paradigm and fundamentally changed how we think of the world.

What about current accepted scientific theory? Following history's pattern, it must all be wrong too, right?

Actually, that's right.

I'm not going to make any scientific breakthroughs here. I'm not nearly smart enough for that. What I am going to do in the next few posts is point out a few of the more obvious anomalies in our current understanding of cosmology and quantum mechanics that fundamentally call into question our understanding of how the universe works.

Note that these are all observations made by scientists smarter than me. These observations, at best, are considered to require a slight rethinking of our understanding of science, and at worst are being ignored altogether. But they all fly in the face of modern science. What we know is wrong, there will be a breakthrough soon that will confirm that what we know is wrong, and here is why:

The Problem With Quasars
This is my favorite tidbit of information commonly overlooked by the scientific community. Quasars, as you will read in most textbooks, are incredibly powerful objects found in the most distant reaches of the universe. When the universe began, the story goes, a lot of the matter coalesced into huge proto-galaxies with incredibly active, powerful black holes at their cores which shed an almost indescribably massive amount of energy. These are observed as quasars. Eventually, as the black holes sucked up much of the matter surrounding them, these quasars were reduced to the calmer galaxies that we see in the nearby universe.

However, there is one teeny, tiny problem with this story.

It is a little-known fact that most quasars, as observed, appear to be directly behind or in the vicinity of nearby foreground galaxies. Some quasars even seem to be associated with the spiral arms of these nearby galaxies.

Then, in 2006, a nail was hammered into the coffin of the scientific community's accepted explanation for quasars. Astronomers found a galaxy (NGC 7319) where a background quasar appears within its central bulge. The problem with this is that the center of the galaxy is so dense that there's no chance in the world that these astronomers should be able to observe a "background" quasar. Look, there's even a picture:

That arrow points to an object that has all the properties of your run-of-the-mill quasar, where it couldn't possibly exist according to the standard model.

There is other evidence as well, such as the fact that many quasars (APM 8279+5255, for example) have extremely high concentrations of iron. These concentrations couldn't possibly exist in the early universe under the Big Bang theory because there hadn't been enough of the right kind of supernovae to form that much iron. Also, many of the quasars have jets on either side that, at the distances suggested by the redshifts, would appear to be moving faster than the speed of light. Scientists have attempted to explain this away by saying that the jets are actually traveling toward us at relativistic speeds causing the appearance of faster-than-light motion, but it is hard to believe that there are two jets on opposite sides of these objects, both moving toward us. A nearby explanation for quasars would make those jets unremarkable. Furthermore, there is evidence of disturbed gasses in the "foreground" galaxies nearby to quasars, including the one discovered in 2006, that has not been explained by the standard model.

The Commonly-Accepted Assumptions
So if quasars are really nearby phenomena, where did modern science get it wrong? To find that out, we must examine how the standard model identifies an object as a quasar: What makes quasars special is their observed redshift. Let me explain.

Light passing through a gaseous element, for example the hydrogen of the outer layers of a star, will be partially absorbed by the hydrogen. In specific, certain colors of light will be absorbed. So when you put the resulting light through a prism (remember high school science?) a predictable pattern of gaps (called absorption lines) will appear in the rainbow due to the hydrogen having absorbed the light. According to the standard model, when an object is moving away very fast, those gaps will be shifted toward the red end of the spectrum, creating the "redshift". See this image as an example:

This is supposedly the same effect that causes the horn of a passing train to lower its tone. When the train is moving very fast away, the tone is shifted downward.

However, this only explains that quasars are moving away from us very fast. Why would this mean they are very far away? This is due to the commonly accepted expansion model of the universe. It has been observed that recognizable objects (spiral galaxies, for example) that appear smaller in the night sky have greater redshifts. It is assumed, then, that since more distant objects have greater redshifts and therefore tend to be moving away faster, the universe is expanding. Since quasars have extremely high redshifts, they must be very very far away, right?

I would suggest that most of the evidence of nearby quasars is incontrovertible enough to imply serious problems with the standard model, and most of the evidence that they are far away is based on assumptions piled on top of assumptions. These assumptions, however, are what have been accepted in the scientific community, and that quasar discovered in 2006 is generally considered an observational fluke; a curiosity at best. Some have suggested that there is a convenient "hole" in the gasses of the galaxy that lets the light from the quasar pass through, but that's a bit too convenient for my liking.

The Lyman-Alpha Problem
There is, however, one observation that seems to heavily favor the distant-quasar theory, and it is the reason that is most often given as evidence against nearby-quasar theories: the Lyman-alpha forests.

Remember the absorption lines described above? Lyman-alpha refers to one of the most well-defined and recognizable absorption lines in the hydrogen absorption spectrum. When light passes through a cloud containing hydrogen, this line is always apparent. Since hydrogen is the most common element in the universe, the Lyman-alpha line is most commonly used to determine redshifts. Furthermore, since light from distant objects in the universe passes through hundreds of clouds of gas and dust before reaching us, each one of those clouds leaves a Lyman-alpha line on the object's spectrum. These groupings of lines are collectively called a Lyman-alpha forest. The problem to nearby-quasar theories is this: the Lyman-alpha forests of quasars are as big and as dense as those of distant galaxies, suggesting that they are, indeed, distant objects.

I have seen conflicting data on the Lyman-alpha density of high- versus low-redshift quasars, so I'm going to ignore those potentially important arguments here. I will instead point out as a rebuttal that it seems to be shaky ground to use Lyman-alpha redshifts as evidence against a theory which casts into doubt the usefulness of redshifts as a measure of distance. If quasars are nearby objects and redshifts therefore do not accurately measure their distance, can't a quasar's Lyman-alpha forest simply be a feature caused by the structure of the quasar itself? For example, layers of hydrogen-rich clouds around the quasar that bear some of the the effect that causes the quasar's high redshift could easily explain the forests.

So let us assume that I am right, and that quasars are nearby objects. What does this mean for the standard model?

The most obvious consequence is that all current theory on galaxy formation needs to be rewritten. Since current theory starts off ancient galaxies as quasars, that must not at all be how they form.

However, there is a much bigger consequence. If we assume that A) quasars are nearby objects, and B) quasar redshifts are caused by objects moving away, then we would have to conclude that all quasars are moving away from us as soon as they form. This is inconceivably unlikely, so there is only one other conclusion that we can draw: Redshifts can be caused by something other than an object traveling away from us.

In fact, there is one other known mechanism that can cause redshifts. Light escaping an intense gravity well, such as that of a black hole, will appear redshifted. However, according to the standard model, a nearby quasar with enough mass to cause the observed redshifts would itself collapse into a black hole. That leaves us with one of two possibilities.

Either redshifts can be caused by some mechanism we don't know about, or our models of the collapse of massive celestial objects are flawed.

If I am right, and if this statement is eventually accepted, it will have dramatic repercussions for all of modern cosmology. If our understanding of redshifts is broken, we will have to rethink the positions of everything in the universe, and whether the universe is indeed expanding as we currently believe. Who knows? The concept of Dark Energy could conceivably be killed by quasars. However, if our understanding of the collapse of massive objects is broken, we will have to rethink the evolution of stars and the formation of a wide variety of phenomena from white dwarfs to black holes. Even the Big Bang theory may need to be reworked.

It all makes my head spin.

Next post: I will take apart the significance of the Planck Length.

Trip to Space
Progress: 6.47%  Flight Time: 0:09:42
Solar Array
Progress: 6.47%  Power: 65W

Friday, November 13, 2009

An Open Letter on the App Store

Dear Apple,

I am severely disappointed in the App Store approval delays and mistakes. I am not even an iPhone developer, but I have been inconvenienced many times by these issues.

Parallel Kindgom is a great cross-platform multiplayer online game, but it has taken you longer than two weeks to approve the newest expansion. This means Android users will be able to get in the MMO's new version to expand their territories and advance in the game while we iPhone users are locked out and will be forced to play catch-up when the app is finally approved.

RSS Player is an app that was submitted, was accepted, but due to a signing error while putting it in the App store, people who purchased it weren't able to download it. The developer tried to get Apple to correct the error, but in the end, he had no choice but to resubmit the app. Now the new submission has been rejected because of a tiny picture displayed for two seconds as part of the intro screen that has been present in all previous versions. Now people who paid for the app over two weeks ago will still not be able to use it for at least another two weeks.

I am beginning to regret getting an iPhone.

Trip to Space
Progress: 6.47%  Flight Time: 0:09:42
Solar Array
Progress: 6.47%  Power: 65W

Thursday, November 5, 2009

LaserMotive Wins Space Elevator Competition

Speaking of contests, another interesting competition was held that I hadn't actually heard about until recently.

The Spaceward Foundation, for the past few years, has organized space elevator competitions inspired by the X-Prize for the past few years. The Space Elevator Competition actually has two different contests: one for tether strength, and one for climber speed and capabilities.

It is the climber contest we're interested in here. There have never been any winners until now, yet the competition has become more difficult every year. In order to win this year, a competitor must demonstrate a device that climbs a nearly kilometer-long tether hung by a helicopter at a speed of at least two meters per second using wireless power provided from the ground. A difficult feat to be sure!

Yet this year, we have a winner. LaserMotive successfully demonstrated this feat using a climber attached to a solar panel that collected energy from a ground laser. LaserMotive is primarily a company interested in developing remote power capabilities rather than doing space-oriented activities, but that is certainly one of the pieces of the puzzle needed to create a successful space elevator.

Trip to Space
Progress: 6.47%  Flight Time: 0:09:42
Solar Array
Progress: 6.47%  Power: 65W

NASA Awards Lunar Lander Prizes

Okay, I've been gone for a long while. Here's a brief explanation of why: My workplace has been treating me and those around me so horridly this past year, that I hardly have motivation enough to come to work in the morning, much less update this website a couple of times per week.

However, enough space tourism news has happened recently that I feel compelled to write a few updates. Also, I want to write one of my long-winded rants, this time on the subject of quasars. Take note, though, that I still won't be posting as frequently as before until I get out of this horrid job.

But enough of that. Let's start with this:

I have written before about the Lunar Lander Challenge, which is managed by the X-Prize foundation. Well, this year's challenge has come and gone, and this time, there are two winners.

Masten Space Systems won 1.15 million dollars from Nasa for completing the more difficult Level 2 challenge, to demonstrate a vehicle that can take off to hover at least 150 feet, stay flying while at least 180 seconds, travel 300 meters, lan on a rocky moon-like surface, then repeat the whole process in reverse within 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Armadillo Aerospace won second place, earning $500,000 for doing the same thing; they just didn't do it quite as fast.

It should be noted that the principal goals of each of these companies is not to create landers; they are both interested in actual spaceflight, specifically with the average consumer in mind. Masten is interested in flying your stuff to space on the cheap (though they emphasize vertical takeoff and landing technology), and Armadillo is working toward developing tourist spacecraft. So this good news for space tourism all around.

As an added bonus, these flights represent the first time the Level 2 challenge has been completed.

Oh, another interesting note: I just updated the bars at the bottom of the post. My solar panel savings have caught up with my trip to space savings, exactly. They're both at 6.47%. Weird.

Trip to Space
Progress: 6.47%  Flight Time: 0:09:42
Solar Array
Progress: 6.47%  Power: 65W

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Aabar Invests in Virgin Galactic

Aabar Investments is a middle eastern company that apparently has a strong interest in spaceflight; they have just shelled out $280 million for a 32% stake in Virgin Galactic. This is great news.

Not only does this add credibility to the profit potential for space tourism, but it gives Virgin Galactic the money to use their technology for a new purpose: satellite launches. Virgin Galactic intends to use some of this money to develop a small satellite launch system using WhiteKnightTwo. They've been hinting at this potential for a while, but now it looks like it's going to happen.

Also, the announcement includes potential plans for a spaceport in the middle east, likely near Abu Dhabi. So now I suppose when Nermal is shipped to Abu Dhabi, he will have something to do there.

Obscure references for the win!

Trip to Space
Progress: 5.86%  Flight Time: 0:08:47
Solar Array
Progress: 5.59%  Power: 56W

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

An Open Letter on Health Care

To all of the elected officials of the United States,

I am writing this open letter to discuss the condition of health care in this country. I have recently had a couple of personal experiences that has prompted this letter.

A few weeks ago, I came down with appendicitis. I had to have a CAT scan, surgery, and a brief stay at the hospital before missing a week of work while I was recovering. Within the past year, the company I work for has handed me two pay cuts and effectively reduced the level of my health care insurance coverage. Due to all of this, I'm expecting to pay nearly $2,500 after my insurance coverage for this relatively routine procedure, and due to the fact that my recent pay cuts have reduced my ability to save for emergencies, I'm either going to have to put that all in a credit card or dip into my long term savings to pay for it.

...and I'm one of the lucky ones.

My brother recently had to have a cyst removed from his tailbone that was causing him back problems. This has required two complex surgeries and an extended recovery period. My brother has a near-minimum-wage job with no health coverage. And because his job requires driving and he cannot sit until he is fully recovered, he is out of a job for the foreseeable future. He is now without a penny in the world, and my parents are having to pay for his rent and his and medical bills, which are likely well over $10,000. Even worse, because he is expected to continue to have back problems, he now has a pre-existing condition and getting insurance in the future will be nearly impossible. If nothing changes, he will likely spend his life praying nothing else goes wrong because if it does, he will once again be thrown into poverty.

I'm not asking for help with our personal situations. It's a hardship, but we can handle it. What I am asking... no, imploring you to do is to do anything you can to support a single-payer health system in this country. Cries that this would put a bureaucrat between us and our doctors are silly; we already have them in the form of health insurance companies, and those bureaucrats financially benefit from denying us the help we need. I can't imagine what all the people with cancer, or AIDS, or any number of horrible diseases in this country are going through on top of their physical suffering. Many are in financial ruin, having become effective slaves to the insurers. No, this situation cannot stand. We are better than that.

Please, please support a single-payer system, or at the very least a strong, affordable public option. Such an option would not solve the problem, but at least it would be a start.

(I have sent this letter to my senators, my representative, and President Obama. I would urge anyone reading this to send letters as well.)

Trip to Space
Progress: 7.03%  Flight Time: 0:07:33
Solar Array
Progress: 3.28%  Power: 49W

Monday, June 22, 2009

Spaceport America Groundbreaking!

This was an exciting weekend for the space tourism industry!

The groundbreaking ceremonies for Spaceport America were held Friday at Las Cruces, New Mexico. However, the thing that everyone is talking about is the flyover that the VMS Eve made after the event. Yes, I said after. Initially, Eve was expected to make a flyover during the groundbreaking ceremony itself, but a technical issue delayed the flight. No matter, though, because the flight happened in spectacular fashion the following day. Eve flew from Phoenix, AZ and made half a dozen passes over the existing airport before departing for the Mojave airport. By my count, this marks Eve's tenth test flight.

And thanks to the blog Personal Spaceflight (the writer of which I am extremely jealous), we have an excellent video for all to share.

Trip to Space
Progress: 7.03%  Flight Time: 0:07:33
Solar Array
Progress: 3.28%  Power: 49W

Thursday, June 18, 2009


So yeah, I've been suffering from a bout of appendicitis, had an emergency appendix extraction, and was out for a while, during which (of course) lots of fun space tourism news happened. Here's one of the highlights:

The next space tourist was announced! The founder of Cirque de Soleil, Guy Laliberté will become the first Canadian space tourist. In cooperation with Space Adventures, he will launch in a Soyuz vehicle toward the International Space Station in September (if all goes well). And in another first, he has dedicated his flight, in cooperation with the One Drop foundation, to raising awareness about the lack of clean water around the world.


Trip to Space
Progress: 5.03%  Flight Time: 0:07:33
Solar Array
Progress: 3.28%  Power: 49W

Friday, June 5, 2009

Space Tourism CEO to Review NASA Policies

See, this is why I like Barack Obama.

If there is one thing NASA needs, it is to be run more like companies like Virgin Galactic and SpaceX, who at every turn develop their spacecraft to be as simple as possible so that they are cheaper and so that there is less that can go wrong. To give you a stark example, a space shuttle has over two million moving parts. SpaceShipOne has thirty.

Yeah, you read that right. Moving parts in a space shuttle: 2,000,000. Moving parts in SpaceShipOne: 30.

And we wonder why the shuttle program is so expensive and why those freaking shuttles break all the time.

Recently, Barack Obama's administration has been putting together a commission to examine NASA's future and make recommendations on how to proceed with manned spaceflight after the three remaining shuttles are retired next year. They may even re-examine the Ares program.

It was announced in the past week that Jeff Greason, the CEO of XCOR has been named to this committee. XCOR Aerospace is another space tourism company dedicated to building low-cost, low-complexity spacecraft.

And if there is one thing NASA needs, that is less moving parts.

Trip to Space
Progress: 5.03%  Flight Time: 0:07:33
Solar Array
Progress: 3.28%  Power: 49W

Friday, May 29, 2009

SpaceShipTwo Engine Test

Woo, finally some space tourism news!

It has been a while, hasn't it? And it's not for a lack of trying; there just hasn't been much news out there. Well, now there is, and it's a doozie.

In a surprise announcement, Virgin Galactic released video of the first test of SpaceShipTwo's engine. And here it is, narrated by none other than Sir Richard Branson.

Around the same time, Virgin Galactic's Will Whitehorn announced the first long-distance flight of VMS Eve, SpaceShipTwo's carrier aircraft. The flight will occur June 19, during the groundbreaking ceremony of Spaceport America. The aircraft will fly from Mojave to the event and then back without stopping. Whitehorn also suggested that SpaceShipTwo's first unpowered tests will begin by the end of the year, and also hinted at was that the first paying customers may fly in one and a half to two years.

It couldn't come soon enough!

Hey, look at that. As if in an omen, my trip to space savings reached 5%.

Trip to Space
Progress: 5.03%  Flight Time: 0:07:33
Solar Array
Progress: 4.05%  Power: 60W

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cheesy Star Trek Eposides

Guess what I've been watching?

Yeah, I made that. Click on it for full effect.

Trip to Space
Progress: 4.58%  Flight Time: 0:06:52
Solar Array
Progress: 3.28%  Power: 49W

Monday, April 27, 2009

WhiteKnightTwo scrapes the runway!

Well, it's that time again! And I expect these to come more and more frequently. WhiteKnightTwo made its fourth test flight last week, and it wasn't quite the success others have been... but that's why they call it a test flight.

Partway through the flight, the VMS Eve made a touch-and-go maneuver, and as it did so, its twin tails scraped the runway. Initially, the media speculated that this was due to crosswinds, or that there was a design flaw in the aircraft. This prompted Scaled Composites to issue a press release to set the record straight. Their press release stated that the problem occurred due to an asynchronous application of thrust during the maneuver, and that simply avoiding that condition would prevent it from happening in the future.

We'll see what the future holds...

Trip to Space
Progress: 4.58%  Flight Time: 0:06:52
Solar Array
Progress: 3.28%  Power: 49W

Thursday, April 16, 2009

SpaceX Announces Another Two Falcon 9 Flights

Today, SpaceX announced that they were adding another two Falcon 9 flights to their schedule. Both of the flights were purchased by CONAE, the Argentina national space agency.

Didn't know Argentina had a national space agency? I sure didn't.

But that's the great thing about SpaceX. They're doing spaceflight much more cheaply than has been available in the past, meaning that smaller governments or (more relevant for the purposes of this website) private companies can purchase spaceflight services.

Both of the spaceflights will take place in 2010. If successful, the flights will launch two identical satellites into orbit, both to be used for measuring soil moisture on Earth, among other earth-observation purposes.

Yep, Argentina is launching two satellites into space to keep track of how wet their dirt is.

Insert joke here.

Trip to Space
Progress: 4.58%  Flight Time: 0:06:52
Solar Array
Progress: 3.28%  Power: 49W

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Most Annoying Things Ever.

So I've decided to create a list of the thirteen things in this world that annoy me most, mostly because a couple of them have severely annoyed me again just in the past couple of days, and I feel like having a good rant. You'll notice that this list focuses fairly heavily on internet phenomena. That's because most things that annoy me are on the internet. So without further ado, from the least annoying to the most annoying:

13. The Imperial System of Units
I'm a fairly scientifically-minded guy, but 90% of my difficulties with science can be traced back to the Imperial system. Inches, feet, miles, pounds, ounces, gallons, etc. It makes no sense. The only reason it's used in this country is because the people who founded it wanted to differentiate themselves from their European oppressors (despite the fact that the Imperial system has British origins). That's right, the US version of the imperial system was originally enforced by politicians, not scientists. That's where it all went wrong. Let me give you some examples: there are 128 fluid ounces in a gallon, 2000 pounds in a ton, and 5280 feet in a mile. Now for the metric system equivalents: there are 1000 milliliters in a liter, 1000 kilograms in a metric ton, and 1000 meters in a kilometer. Which system makes more sense to you?

I know this one is rather innocuous, but I just can't stand it. If a hottie were to message me saying "I WANT TO SEX YOU UP RIGHT NOW", it would be a deal-breaker. Probably. Well, I would at least have second thoughts. Call me crazy, but it grates that much against my nerves. This applies equally to using no punctuation.

11. TV previews for the next episode that give out way too much about what's going to happen.
These days, I have to remember to stop watching a show real fast after it ends, because they'll invariably show you a preview of the next episode during the credits, and about 50% of the time, they won't leave anything to the imagination. They'll give away the whole plot of the show! There are entire TV series that I've stopped watching because I failed to avoid the preview a few times and it took all the fun out of it for me.

10. People who drone on at you about their own interests and don't let you get a word in edgewise.
I have a friend who used to call me up nearly every evening and talk about whatever video game he was playing that day. He would blather on and on about it in one disturbingly long run-together sentence without so much as pausing to let you respond to what he was saying and when I decided to break in and try to change the subject he would continue as if I hadn't said a word. And it was always about a game that I didn't play, didn't intend to play, and had absolutely no interest in playing whatsoever. My roommate at the time literally put the phone down for twenty minutes when that friend was talking, and when the phone was picked back up, the guy was still talking and hadn't even noticed. Ever since then, when someone even approaches half this level of insanity, I can't stand to talk to them.

Yeah, internet acronyms. I can't stand them, not only because I prefer communicating in proper English, but because I can't decipher half of them. My brother onced sent me the following message (and I'm paraphrasing): "Btw b4 U go I need 2 tlk!!!!!" It suffices to say that he never got a chance to "tlk" to me.

8. Video games that send you back a half hour when you screw up a complex or difficult maneuver.
I do enjoy playing the occasional video game. I don't have many, because I don't have a lot of time for them and they're getting expensive, but I'll buy one once in a while. However, there's little that I can stand less than when you're sent back halfway to the freaking beginning of the game because you fell off a thin path on a cliff or screwed up a complex puzzle or whatever. If I screw something up, I want to try that thing again, not a half hour of stuff I already got right and then that thing! I like to complete the games I play, but with only one major exception, the few I haven't finished were the ones where I had to go back and do an extra half hour of mundane repetitive work when I borked things up, which happens to me frequently.

7. Bill Sizemore

6. People who tailgate me when I'm speeding.
I know you have some insanely important meeting/TV show/ham sandwich to get to, but I'm already speeding, okay? Cool it. Keep it up and I'll slow down in front of you. Yes, I'm that petty.

5. Blind exclamations of United States supremacy.
Yes, we all know that you're a good patriot and love the country you live in and worship at the feet of freedom and all that. But when you tell others that not supporting a war means you hate the troops, or when you tell others that disagreeing with the President means you want the country to fail, or when you tell others that being a citizen of the United States means that you're better than everyone else in the world, than you sir are a raving lunatic. After all, if we can't admit our mistakes, and if we can't discuss our faults like civilized adults, then how will we ever improve? The same level of annoyance goes for those who make exclamations about what the "Founding Fathers" would have wanted without ever having studied them, those who repeat political information gathered from talk radio and cable news networks without verifying it themselves, and the phrase "Don't mess with Texas".

4. Kewl.
Oh my god, I used to be such a little internet twit. I used to use this constantly. But now I can't stand it. Am I redeemed?

3. Spongebob Squarepants
Yeah, I know, it's cliche. But I can't stand this monstrosity. There are few things that will make me turn away from anything faster if there's even a picture of Spongebob involved. And the voice grates against my nerves. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind most kids' cartoons. In fact, there are a few that I probably enjoy way too much for my age. But Spongebob Squarepants makes The Powerpuff Girls look like Rocko's Modern Life.

2. Rickrolling
Okay, this was funny the first few times. Actually, no. It wasn't. It was insanely annoying from the beginning, and it keeps going on, and on, and on, and on ad nauseum. I don't see the appeal. Whoever thought up this horrid excuse for a meme needs to be drawn and quartered in a vat of acid. There is little that is more aggravating to me than clicking on a link expecting to read some interesting tidbit of information and not getting it. To instead get a stupid video with that same stupid song, again, makes me feel very, very stabby.

1. People who are deathly afraid of turning.
When I'm driving down the road, minding my own business, and the person in front of me decides to slow down to a crawl just to turn onto the next street, it drives me to the looney bin. I'm normally a pretty mellow guy, but the closest I have ever gotten to road rage has been when this has happened. One time, the lady in front of me actually stopped on the street, only to inch forward again to make a turn into a parking lot. The punch line? The parking lot was empty! Just turn already!

And that rounds out my list. There is almost certainly more that I haven't thought of, but I'm done griping for now.

Trip to Space
Progress: 4.28%  Flight Time: 0:06:26
Solar Array
Progress: 2.6%  Power: 39W

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Solar Panel Savings

So, I've mentioned in the past that I intend to start saving for a solar array. Well, I've officially started the savings. But even more than that, I've taken some of my own advice and hunted for new opportunities to earn a bit of money. I'm putting my savings into the stock market.

I've always wanted to try stock trading, and I figured this would be a good time for it. The stock market is way down, but there have been hints that the economy may be starting to recover, and the market should as well. So I signed up for one of those stock trading websites.

Don't get me wrong; I haven't put anything in that I can't afford to lose, but it turns out that I may have some pretty good instincts as far as stocks go. I started out putting in a small amount and investing them in three stocks. All are companies that I know at least a moderate amount about because their products carry a big interest with either me or some of my friends. One is a company that I consider to be grossly undervalued, one is a company where I believe the value will increase this summer, and one is a little of each. I intend to pick out one or two more stocks when I put a bit more in later this month. Not to toot my own horn, but all three stocks I picked have increased by significant amounts since I bought them, and I believe they'll continue to increase.

In fact, I had even more fun with it this morning. After carefully observing the ups and downs of the market for the better part of a month, yesterday one of my stocks jumped over 15%. I was of the belief that while the stock will continue to increase in general, that particular jump wouldn't last. So I sold the stock yesterday just before the market closed with the intent to buy it back this morning. This was a gamble, especially because I have little enough invested that trading fees are a significant concern for me when messing with stocks like this. But this morning, it paid off. The stock dropped 5%, and I bought it back along with one extra share. I even had few bucks left over after the trading fees were paid.

We'll see if my luck continues.

Disclaimer: none of this is intended as advice. If you trade stocks, you're on your own. Don't come whining to me if you aren't as awesome at it as I am.

Update: I haven't updated my trip to space savings bar in a while, and since it has actually increased due to the recent stock market behaviors, I'm updating it now! Also, I'll probably be updating these numbers more often, because I feel like it.

Trip to Space
Progress: 4.28%  Flight Time: 0:06:26
Solar Array
Progress: 2.6%  Power: 39W

Monday, April 6, 2009

WhiteKnightTwo Takes Two More Test Flights

Yes, the testing of Virgin Galactic's first WhiteKnightTwo aircraft (named Eve) appears to be going well. The most recent test, performed just last month, was particularly spectacular.

On March 25, the VMS Eve took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port and flew for two and a half hours. It reach speeds of over 250 mph, altitudes of over 14,000 feet, and performed a battery of tests including a mid-air engine restart. The successful event prompted Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, to announce that he will be aboard one of Eve's upcoming test flights.

This test was, of course, far short of SpaceShipTwo's 50,000 foot launch height, but it's only a matter of time...

Progress: 3.93%  Flight Time: 0:05:54

Friday, April 3, 2009

The First Repeat Space Tourist Launches

That's right, in a world first, a paying passenger has traveled to space twice.

That passenger is Charles Simonyi, and he traveled to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule. He launched on March 26 and arrived at the station on the 28th. So now, he has been in space eight days.

He of course payed his millions to do so to Space Adventures in their partnership with the Russian government. One of the ways Simonyi has been spending his time on the space station is using a HAM radio to communicate with amateur radio operators on the ground. That's right, if you're a HAM radio operator and are in the right place at the right time, you too can pick up transmissions from the first repeat space tourist!

Kinda makes me wish I knew someone who has one.

Progress: 3.93%  Flight Time: 0:05:54

Thursday, January 29, 2009

All About Labor Unions

It has been a while since I spoke up about politics. The politics part of my brain got kinda numb after the elections, and I haven't really felt like writing about it for some time. Time's up.

My good friend Geoff recently wrote a post on his website about labor unions, and I wrote him a response that is just awesome enough to repeat here. So here is what I think about unions:

On one hand, I'm generally in favor of unions. I would likely be in one if I could, but they don't really exist in my line of work, which is kind of sad considering how poorly we've been treated over the past six months or so. However, I don’t by any means see unions as bastions of awesomeness. On the contrary, many of them are led by bloodsucking crooks. However, I would rather have a bloodsucking crook on my side and a bloodsucking crook on the other side than just one on the other side.

On the flip side of the coin, part of what gives unions so much excessive political power is the fact that they have agreements with some employers requiring that low level workers be members of the union. This should be illegal. It can dissolve quickly to having two bloodsucking crooks against you. This happened to another friend of mine. One crook was keeping his wages low, and the other was demanding excessive membership dues and not really using it for any benefit to him. Just as I would be likely to join a union right now if I could, I would think twice about working anywhere that required me to be a member of a union.

What I’m getting at here is the legal framework surrounding unions needs to be changed. It should be easy for someone to join a union no matter where they work, but just as easy for someone to refuse union membership no matter where they work. If people could join or drop out on a whim, unions would have a lot more incentive to help members out and keep them paying dues. Also employers would have more incentive to treat people well and stave off their feeling of a need to organize. Maybe I'm being a bit simplistic here, but I think lot of this crap would change for the better on all sides, except maybe for the bloodsucking crooks, wherein lies the problem.

And yes, I'm totally allowed to profusely plagiarize myself.

Progress: 3.93%  Flight Time: 0:05:54

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Russia Announces No Joint Tourism After 2009

It seems they have made it official. The Russian Space Agency has announced that after 2009, they will not transport any more tourists to the International Space Station during their missions.

This is of no surprise, though, because the ISS will soon be operating with a crew of 6 instead of the current crew of 3. With the space shuttle out of service, the Russians are going to need all of the seating they can get to being up fresh crew members.

So what will this mean for Space Adventures, who has been arranging these visits? They will only be able to take two more tourists up before the deadline, but they have already planned for this. They arranged months ago for a private launch of a dedicated Soyuz vehicle after their usual access to the Soyuz missions has been terminated. So this is not the end of ISS tourism yet!

Progress: 3.93%  Flight Time: 0:05:54

Thursday, January 15, 2009

XCOR Tests Lynx Rocket


No, seriously, ROCKETS!

XCOR is testing theirs! They have announced that they have completed construction on the rocket engine that will take XCOR's Lynx craft to the brink of space. The rocket is currently undergoing its testing at the Mojave Air and Space Port, where several space tourism companies have worked to develop their technology. No word on when the testing will be complete and construction of the craft will continue, but they were helpful enough to provide a picture.

Progress: 3.93%  Flight Time: 0:05:54

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Falcon 9 Goes Vertical!

In another milestone for Spacex's Falcon 9 heavy lift spacecraft, the first model has been lifted vertically at Cape Canaveral.

This is quite a sight. And why? Well, It is a craft like this, launched from this location, that is likely to lift the Sundancer space hotel prototype from Bigelow Aerospace into orbit.

There are a few other launches to go before that happens, though, and this one will launch soon. A flight window has not yet been given, but it will likely be within the next few weeks.

And here's a picture! Credit SpaceX.
And no, this image has not been edited in any way. It just happens to be particularly awesome.

Progress: 3.93%  Flight Time: 0:05:54

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Economy is Falling! The Economy is Falling!

...Or so says Chicken Destitute. But the point was recently nailed home to me when I received my quarterly investment summary.

The first thing I noticed was they helpfully put it in yearly format instead of their usual quarterly format. "See? You still made money! Since 2007."

But yes, it turns out that even with my monthly contributions, my trip-to-space fund has been losing money. I'm going to have to shrink that little purple bar a bit. I'm not too concerned, though, because I'm still really just starting out, and this just means that I'm now buying stocks cheap.


Progress: 3.93%  Flight Time: 0:05:54

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Domain Name and Stupid Votes

A couple of pieces of website news today:

The first bit of news is I finally forked over the $10 to buy! will remain valid, but will be the primary website from here on out.

The second is that I've started up a whole new website to rant about politics! Remember my list of things I would do if I were president? Item number 4 on that list went sometiung like this:

4. I would urge congresspeople to abstain on ridiculous frivolous votes like what to rename this federal building and should we have a National Orphaned Amputee Leper Day. Do you realize that this kind of crap makes up 3/4 of what congress does these days? Those who do abstain will get to have lunch with me frequently, because they're my kind of people.

Well, I've been following the issue of frivolous votes more and more since I wrote that, and it's horrendous how much nothing these people do! So I'm starting a website about it. will document as many of these stupid resolutions and hearings that I can find, and I'll be encouraging members of our government to abstain from such things. The website isn't quite up yet, but it will show itself any time now. I'm 80% sure that all I'll accomplish with the site is getting all this off my chest, but that's good enough for me. And who knows? Maybe someone will take notice.

That's it for now!

Progress: 4.03%  Flight Time: 0:06:05

2008 Word Cloud

Well, I was dinking around on the internet (when I should have been working) when I found It's a neat site where you can make a word cloud out of any entered text. So of course, I made one out of all of my 2008 posts. I'm easily amused, so it's no surprise that a lot of this amused me. Space and Time are (appropriately) the biggest words. Years and Days are next to each other, with days (of course) being the smaller of the two. God is in there, but it's one of the teeniest tiniest words. NASA is bigger than God. People are bigger than God. Voting is bigger than God. Not sure what all that means. My political leanings come out, as Obama is much bigger than McCain. Also, some of my writing habits come out, such as my frequent use of the words Yeah and Well, which I have been trying to curb lately. And finally, the economic crisis makes an appearance. 0:05:35 and 0:06:05 are there. These were the listed flight times under the purple bar beneath my posts for much of the year. The fact that they appear here means they didn't change much, and therefore my investments didn't do well enough for me to warrant changing them frequently. Take a look!

Progress: 4.03%  Flight Time: 0:06:05

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Can a Space Elevator be Powered Mechanically?

Every once in a while, someone comes up with an idea so simple and obvious, yet so revolutionary, it's akin to inventing the wheel in 1950. Yesterday was one of those days.

One of the main problems with the creation of the space elevator is how to power the lifter. It would be impossible with current technology (or even with technologies under development) to give the lifter enough batteries or generator fuel to power its climb. The batteries or fuel simply wouldn't have enough power to lift their own weight 20,000 miles. So up until now, the main ideas have been to power the lifter with lasers or microwaves beamed from earth, which are technologies under development that could potentially work. However, those ideas come with various significant health and safety risks, and nobody is sure that either of the technologies will be there anytime soon.

Then this video came out yesterday. Age-Raymond Rice, a ground station engineer for the ESA, took a broomstick, an electric sander, and some hair brushes, and demonstrated a startlingly, disgustingly simple method to mechanically power a space elevator. You can view a video in the BBC article on this.

Basically, he strapped the hairbrushes to the broomstick with the bristles pointed down. This made it more difficult for the brushes to move down than up. Then he vibrated the broomstick using the sander. When the broomstick was jerked down, the brushes climbed up. When the broomstick was jerked up, the brushes stayed put. This caused the brushes to slowly rise along the broomstick using purely mechanical power.

A number of obstacles would need to be overcome to apply this technique to a space elevator. You would need a suspension system to keep the occupants and cargo inside the elevator from being shaken apart. You would need a way to ensure the jerking on the tether wouldn't tug the satellite off course. You would need to design a lifter that would remain balanced on either side of the tether (despite the movement of its occupants) to avoid rotational motion of the lifter caused by the jerking. Finally, you would need to design a system to ensure that the lifter's version of the hairbrush bristles and the constant jerking do not damage the tether.

However, these obstacles seem much simpler to overcome than designing lasers to power the lifter without the risk of kersploding it. Not that I'm against using lasers for anything and everything...


Progress: 4.03%  Flight Time: 0:06:05

Monday, January 5, 2009

Catch-Up: Spaceport America and Virgin Galactic Make It Official

After months of negotiations and planning, it has finally happened. On the last day of 2008, Spaceport America signed a twenty-year lease agreement with Virgin Galactic, providing them use of the spaceport for space tourism purposes.

Not only does this have the obvious significance, but this marks the last of three criteria that Spaceport America needed to meet to get federal funding for construction. The other two were to get a vehicle launch license from the FAA and the creation of a local tax district. Construction of Spaceport America will now begin soon.

And that's it. I am now caught up on all of the significant space tourism news. Done sucking that porcupine, NBC?

Progress: 4.03%  Flight Time: 0:06:05

Catch-Up: Armadillo Teams Up with the Rocket Racing League

While I've run across references to the Rocket Racing League several times through following space travel news, I haven't mentioned them because I hadn't found anything that connected them in a significant manner to the space tourism industry. That has now changed.

The Rocket Racing League, owned by Rocket Racing, Inc., started primarily as an entertainment company. They support the development of rocket-powered aerial vehicles, which then race against each other. The stated ambition of the league is to one day race spacecraft against each other. The development toward this goal has in recent years contributed to advances in the spaceflight industry, and it has been speculated that the group is a good candidate to get involved in the space tourism industry.

And now it's official. In late October, a joint venture was announced between Rocket Racing Inc., Armadillo Aerospace, and the government of New Mexico to develop a vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) spacecraft with the capability of sending two tourists into space at or below the price of $100,000 each. These spacecraft would take off from Spaceport America in New Mexico, and would allow tourists to float freely with a 360-degree view of their surroundings.

If this spacecraft actually gets built and used as stated, I may switch my personal ambitions from Virgin Galactic's offering to this one. Besides SpaceShipTwo, this is the only proposed space tourism craft that would allow people to float freely, and this one would have a much better view. And at half the price, that little purple bar at the bottom of my posts would get much bigger.

The spacecraft would basically be a modified and scaled-up version of that which Armadillo has slowly been planning for years. Here's a picture!

Progress: 4.03%  Flight Time: 0:06:05

Friday, January 2, 2009

Catch-Up: 2008 Lunar Lander Challenge

Last year's Lunar Lander Challenge was apparently quite the event! For those of you who aren't familiar with the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, it's an annual event put on by the X-Prize Foundation challenging companies to create a viable lunar lander type vehicle that can perform certain tasks. This alone has little to do with space tourism. However, every year, one of the most viable entrants is Armadillo Aerospace, a small company dedicated to the advancement of technologies that could be of use in space tourism.

This was the third year of the challenge. In 2006 and 2007, there were no winners, because nobody was able to complete the required tasks. Specifically, there are two challenges. The level 1 challenge, for $350,000 requires a vehicle to lift off, travel laterally to a specified location, land, lift off again, make a return trip, and land, all within a specified amount of time. The level 2 challenge, for $1,000,000, requires additional tasks.

Well, the results are in, and this year, Armadillo Aerospace won the level 1 challenge! They also made an unsuccessful attempt at the level 2 challenge, but indicated they would try again this year. Congratulations to them and to Widget, their funny little armadillo mascot.

Hey, and I found this awesome picture of Armadillo's vehicle during the level 1 challenge:

Progress: 4.03%  Flight Time: 0:06:05

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Catch-Up: Sixth Space Tourist Launches

Okay, I admit that I knew about this story when it was happening, and I didn't post anything. Honestly, it was around the time that work started causing me headaches (it still is), and I was just too burnt-out and lazy to post it. If I hadn't been so lazy, I would have discovered early on that I was no longer getting my regular updates, but I still blame NBC. With that said:

On October 12th, Richard Garriott was launched aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule, thereby becoming the world's sixth space tourist. As all space tourists so far, Garriott achieved this feat through Space Adventures' agreement with the Russians to send tourists up to the space station for a tidy sum (currently about $35,000,000).

Garriott is actually on the board of Space Adventures, and shortly after returning from his week-long mission, he announced he was leaving his work as a developer for NCSoft (the makers of City of Heroes, among other games) to pursue interests related to his journey in space. So I have little doubt that we'll be hearing more from him.

Congratulations, Richard! As a successful video game developer and space tourist, you have lived the dreams of many a geek like me.

Progress: 4.03%  Flight Time: 0:06:05